I spent years avoiding Cormac McCarthy. Like a hangdog sheriff he stalked me through various university courses, tempting award winnings (his) begging for a read and even Oprah got on board at some point, but still I resisted. He frightened me a bit. Those spare, dusty excerpts that were compulsory inclusions in university courses rubbed against me like rusty barbed wire. He was too concise, measured, too short of sentence and punctuation, too vernacular, too male and western. No, no, this kind of ‘American’ writing was not for me.
I don’t quite know why I took exception with Mr McCarthy for these reasons. I was obsessed with Elmore Leonard for quite a few years, I had already come to the table on Annie Proulx but Cormac, well, sir, I was just darn scared. And no one really pressed it. Yes, he appeared in all my uni materials but apart from the lecturer pointing him out and that one middle-aged guy writing his crime novel exclaiming his brilliance, most others were happy for the tumbleweeds to roll by … maybe they were all scared too.
And then last year I read The Road. This is not the time to get in to my passion and primordial connection to distopia/end of days stories – we’ll be here for hours – let’s just say Z for Zachariah, 1984 and Taronga were some of my favourite books as a young teenager. They speak to a core of me that’s difficult to explain and probably needs the assistance of a psychologist. But, yes, The Road – loved it, loved it, loved it. WOW. BLOWN AWAY. And so then I took on a new personal mission (I have several) to read everything Mr Mac had ever written. And I have started with No Country for Old Men (sometimes it takes me a while to get on to those personal missions).
I haven’t seen the film – I like to read the books first, where I can. But if the film has the same sinister, lone ,desperate intensity of the book then I am there with ostrich-skin boots on. I like that Cormac McCarthy uses mostly dialogue and characters telling their own stories, I like that you have to work out what is going on yourself, I like that he uses shortish sentences and not much punctuation. I like that when I read this book I felt the desert sand grit in my eyes, heard the shortened breath of cornered men and smelt the stale tequila scent of musty, cheap hotels and bars. No Country for Old Men is dark and heavy and every word pushes you forward through an edgy tale that you’re not really sure you want to be riding along with but, like the characters, have little choice but to continue on. Dear Mr McCarthy, I am so sorry I doubted you for so long.